The above photo of my arm between my two doggies. The photo has nothing to do with the post, other than maybe this image is heart-softening.
I have been thinking of posting more "meaty" posts here, something that leads a conversation, or gives more for someone to think about and digest.
This one is about one of our Iñupiaq values, "avoidance of conflict".
I remember one time I was driving my Mom and I up the highway from Anchorage to Fairbanks. We were going to go visit family up there and it was winter time. For some reason we were driving late at night and I took the opportunity to ask my Mom, an Iñupiaq Elder about each of our Iñupiaq values. She broke down each value for me, gave me the deeper meaning, from her knowledge and perspective and training. She allowed me to record our conversation. I'm not sure where that voice memo is now, as it was probably about 5 years ago when this drive happened. But I still remember what she said and I will share some of it with you now.
One of our Iñupiaq values is that of "avoidance of conflict". When you read the value, it sparks images of a person seeing conflict ahead of them and then going "oh no, conflict over there, I am going to avoid it all together and go this other way instead" or maybe it evokes an image of you having conflict happening right in front of your face and you are silently taking it all in, not saying anything or doing anything to "avoid the conflict". You can think of many more scenarios like this where you deftly "avoid the conflict" like maybe having wrist bands on that bounce the conflict away some magical kind of way.
When I went into a deeper conversation with my Mom about this value, she told me that the above avoidance scenarios couldn't be further from the truth. Avoidance of conflict means that when conflict arises, any hint of the conflict, you deal with it right then and there, head on, with all the humor and love in your heart. You say something. You confront it. As an Iñupiaq, you probably deftly confront the possible conflict with a joke, or a way that makes everyone laugh - a way that makes everyone laugh yet at the same time deftly confronts the possible conflict head on, right in that moment, no holds barred.
It reminds me of another story, this time I was working for the North Slope Borough School District in Utkeagvik, Alaska. Some friends of mine were coming up to do some work and they hadn't been to Utqeagvik before. I was making a list of slang used in Utqeagvik at the time, so they could surprise the locals with the venacular of the big village. In this process of making the "welcome to Utqeagvik" orientation packet for my artist friends, I found a funny thing in the closets and files of the NSBSD...
It was an orientation packet for teachers new to the school district, new to the Arctic, new to the Iñupiaq. It was filled with lots of common sense things about life in the Arctic, and then around bullet point number 22 it went something like this:
22: Iñupiaq People are extremely blunt. They will say exactly what they think about something right to your face, right in the moment. If you upset them, they will let you know immediately, with no hesitation, but sometimes their commentary on what you are doing wrong (or different) will come in the form of a joke, often at your expense. Be prepared for an Iñupiaq person to go right up to you and say what they feel, without hesitation or sometimes what you might feel is a filter.
It went something like that. It made me laugh and it made me feel loved, knowing that I am not the only blunt Iñupiaq out there, tackling any possible conflict head on with no holds barred.
Dealing with the conflict right away is the "avoidance of conflict". You don't allow anything to build up, any resentments or "I wish I had said this" or misunderstandings about what was really meant in that moment. It allows any potential conflict to immediately be handled, with joy and love, wit and humor.
I am thinking about this value because I have a tendency to call out what I see as not being right - I call it out right in that moment. This quality can seem to be off-putting at times, and at times people would rather dance around or even hide from conflict than have an instant discussion, face to face.
Sometimes people feel more comfortable dealing with conflict by talking around the conflict - for example, telling a friend about the incident instead of "going to the source" and then hoping the friend will possibly tell another friend who will tell the person who is in conflict with the first person. Indirect approach.
I prefer to "go directly to the source" a value that was also shared in my Art Equity facilitation training that I attended in Atlanta last year. I felt right at home when we spoke about this shared value.
I have so many memories of being a young Iñupiaq woman and one of my Uncles or Aunties or even just someone in the community, they let me know what I am doing wrong or what they find strange - and somehow they make everyone around them laugh (including me) and I would manage to feel embraced and put in check all at the same time. I love that about my People.
I am just now feeling more confident in saying the right joke or comment that can make people laugh, feel loved and also know that I disagree with them, all at the same time.
All at the same time. This is my take on "avoidance of conflict. As a disclaimer, I am only one Iñupiaq person and by no means represent all Iñupiaq people, as we are all so amazingly unique.
Almost all the snow has melted here in Alaska. I have been sending out about 5 postcards a day, so if you want a postcard, please contact me with your physical address. I draw on each postcard, sometimes I write a poem, until I have about 5 ready to go. Then I pick out random names from my "back to the 80's address book" and write a personal note, then place a stamp from my mega roll of stamps. I have been enjoying the daily discipline of drawing, writing, thinking about people who I am connected to, sending them thoughts and love. A small percentage write a postcard back, which feels like a large percentage when I get one in the mail. Spending a lot of time in the house, my daily rhythms have taken new forms.
I have been doing the Wim Hof method, just the breathing and the cold showers, not sure if there are other parts of the method that I am missing. I like the method so far, I do the breathing each morning and each night, an addition to my daily meditation practice.
Slowly but surely, my facebook friends are dwindling down, as I painstakingly take the time to delete people one by one. It has been a lot harder than I thought to extricate myself from the medium than I thought, because there are fears that pop up, pop up, up, up. I have so many contacts and connections there from people and artist friends from all over the world, I feel most times when I am deleting my friends that I am giving some of my wealth away. Like giving away parts of a protection, or I am unravelling a friendship song. Yet, when I sit at my desk with all my favorite pens to draw with and I take time to write down addresses and think of the person who will open their mailbox and get a surprise card in the mail, it gives me strength to keep going along with the plan to leave the medium of facebook. I am making connections and strengthening connections in a different way, a way that makes me feel like I did when I was a teenager, with my address book and my stationary and stickers. I know that I could just de-activate my account and not do the slow one-by-one delete of friends and posts and memories, but I am kind of like a dog with a bone sometimes, once I get it in my head I am going to do something a certain way, I stick to it. I do love the postcard writing, the space that I get into when I am writing notes. I think the letters and postcards are my best way of communicating, more than a well crafted email or a blog post or a twitter poem.
I am filled with lots of love and life these days. We got a puppy from friends who had a small doggie who made puppies with another small doggie, and now we have a boy puppy who is about six months old. He's very much a puppy and we love him. The big doggie that we had for a year before the puppy arrived has adjusted to his new little best friend. It was a process, he has come out on the other side. The big doggie, we are his fourth family and he was at the pound for 59 days before we brought him home, so it has been a big love journey to bring him to accept a family that will love him forever. The puppy has actually helped neutralize some of his trauma that he must have gone through to get to us.
These are the stories, I am spilling out to you. Today, I was able to let go and feel a deep deep love. Tears went down my face, as I was able to let go of very stubborn parts of my heart. Things that I was determined to be dug into, that I was determined to hold onto, ways that I know that I was right right right, my stubborn heart stuckness, all at once, all of it became unravelled and the stuck parts flew up into the springtime sunlight.
Thank you for staying with me. I am filled with so much energy and work is going good, I am so excited to have something new to share with you. Soon.
Allison Akootchook Warden